Proud of the journey so far

 Ann Evans, Chair, Qualifications Wales

Seeing the advert to recruit my successor has been a prompt to reflect on my time as the first Chair of Qualifications Wales. 

I step down in September this year, at the end of jam-packed terms. No doubt there will be a whole range of work to complete between now and then, but a quick glance in the rear-view mirror shows me what a journey we have travelled since our fledgling start in 2015. It’s a journey worth reflection. 

In early 2015, we had a shadow Board, a CEO designate and not much else. Our establishment phase was rather hectic to say the least. By September that year we were all systems go, with the rest of the Board appointed, all legal processes complete and enough of our people and systems in place to take on our role.  

We knew who we were and what we were to deliver. We launched as an independent regulator for Wales, designed to be distinct from Welsh Government. We would keep our eyes on the smooth running of qualifications and the system they operated within, while always searching for improvements. 

My first meeting with our Chief Executive Philip Blaker was in a pub near Merthyr Tydfil, with both of us hoping we would recognise each other from photographs and not end up accosting strangers. That first discussion covered so much, including the huge number of decisions he needed to make about the new office.  I’ll never forget the look on the faces of other diners as we spent time in an intense conversation surrounded by sheets of plans. Today our office feels familiar and QW feels established, mature and embedded in the educational life of Wales. 

The first 18 months was very much about, to use a hackneyed phrase, hitting the ground running.  We had to manage priorities and expectations alongside the huge amount of work to establish a new organisation. We took on a significant GCSE and A level reform programme part way through and, as we had a very clear aim to ensure we gave equal focus to vocational qualifications, we established our innovative sector review approach. 

A key focus of mine was to ensure that we had clear and effective governance from the very beginning and our Board worked as a team, to both support and challenge the organisation. It was also important that the Board was part of the development of the culture of the organisation. Philip and I knew that we wanted to ensure an open and professional culture, always focussed on the learner and the needs of Wales. By now these ideas are embedded in the way we all work. 

As a new organisation we also knew that we had to establish ourselves in the education life of Wales, and we had an ambition to ensure that our professionalism and work was recognised across the UK and beyond. It now feels commonplace to talk about the wide-ranging debates and discussions we are part of in Wales, the UK and beyond. 

We have faced many challenges and I know that there are significant ones still ahead, not least the development of qualifications to support the new curriculum for Wales. I feel personally very proud of QW and its achievements. I know that the hard working and professional staff and Board under a new Chair are well placed to take these challenges forward and I will watch with interest the next phase of Qualifications Wales’ work.